Morality: The Great Distractor, by Ryan Stanley
MARCH 7, 2019
One of the shows our family likes to watch together is the Carbonaro Effect, a hidden camera show where a magician (Michael Carbonaro) performs amazing magic tricks on people and leaves them very confused.
Watching the people’s reaction after they have witnessed one of his tricks is perhaps the best part of the show.
I’ve heard magic is all about distraction. So as we watch the show I try to look to where Carbonaro might be distracting us from—his other hand, the left side of the counter, behind him, etc. in order to find out how he’s pulling off this trick. Oh, by the way, this has never helped, at all, and I have never figured out how he does any of the tricks, but hey, that doesn’t keep me from trying!
Religion can be a lot like that—a practice built on distraction—and often it’s the distraction of morality. I know, you think I am a heretic, and it’s ok; I’ve been called worse, but hear me out. I am not promoting immorality. I am suggesting that just as morality can be the very thing that keeps you from receiving the love of God in the gospel (the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son), it can also be what distracts us from growth in that gospel.
Growth in the spiritual life comes from knowing and experiencing more of the onslaught of God’s love, not from the mending of your unwanted personal habits. David Benner in his book The Gift of Being Yourself, puts it like this:
Spiritual transformation does not come from fixing our problems. It results from turning to God in the midst of them and meeting God just as we are. Turning to God in our sin and shame is the heart of spiritual transformation.
Having been around the religious world for quite some time (and buying into its illusions for most of my life), I’ve seen this “slight of hand” trick. And honestly, it’s more than a distraction; it’s a lie. A lie that Jesus talked a lot about, which is why the religious people were so infuriated with Him. The religious people were so distracted by the illusion of a spiritual life they could build themselves through morality, they completely missed the invitation from Jesus to receive all God’s love and acceptance in him. Think about it. Jesus was inviting them into a relationship but they were hell bent on a religious program.
The same happens with us today. We go to church and hear sermons about how the bible encourages us to be better people and then we spend the week focused on bettering our morality. We go off and read the bible the same way it was preached—as a manual on how to be a better person. Meanwhile Jesus stands inviting us into a real relationship. A relationship of dependence, where we agree with God on the law’s righteous requirement. We agree that we could never attain that sort of complete and perfect selfless love in all of life. Then we look at Jesus in the midst of our need, and thank him that he has lived the completely righteous life on our behalf. And then, surprisingly, we start to see thankfulness, love, and devotion flow from our heart because we know he has done for us what we could never do for ourselves. Sinners saved by grace. Sinners loved in the midst of our sin. Sinners being renewed and re-created into His image. It may not be of your own doing, but that shouldn’t keep you from enjoying it. Hallelujah, what a Savior!